I wanted to share something with everyone who reads this blog. It's a short reading that has driven my life over the last couple years. I do not have a child of my own - but every child in my classroom becomes my own. This story has "struck with me" since the first time I read it.
Click HERE if you would like to download a PDF version. You will want to keep it!!!
Welcome to Holland
Emily Perl Kingsley (1987)
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a
disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience
to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous
vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful
plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may
learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack
your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess
comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I
signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of
going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in
Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible,
disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole
new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy
than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath,
you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills.... and
Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and
they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the
rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go.
That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because
the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to
Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things
... about Holland.
I read this today on a friend's Facebook page. I posted it here so I wouldn't forget it. Tomorrow, a lot of creatures will visit your door. Be open minded. The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy might have poor fine motor skills. The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy might have motor planning issues. The child who does not say "trick or treat" or "thank you" might be painfully shy, non-verbal, or selectively mute. If you cannot understand their words, they may struggle with developmental apraxia of speech. They are thankful in their hearts and minds. The child who looks disappointed when he sees your bowl might have a life-threatening allergy. The child who isn't wearing a costume at all might have SPD or autism. Be kind, be patient, smile, pretend you understand. It's everyone's Halloween. Make a parent feel good by making a big deal of their special child. Let us not forget -- a child's disability or special needs is a family's way of life. It is not a hinderance or a difficulty -- it's their life. And life happens everyday... even on Halloween.
When I tell people that I am getting my Master's in Early Childhood Special Education, I usually get one of two questions:
"What is that?" (answer -- early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and delays & special education pre-school)
"Isn't that so hard? Doesn't it make you so sad?"
Yes, at times it's hard. It's hard to learn about infants with short life spans. It's sometimes difficult when I realize many of these children have been through more in less than 5 years than I have in 26.
But, it's not as hard as I expected it to be. To be successful in this field, you cannot "feel bad" for the children and families. I cannot and do not pity them. I cannot and do not get stuck in a "what if..." mentality. This is their lives. My job is to improve, support, enrich their lives. To help families meet their own needs and function in their day-to-day life.
This week -- it got to me. This week in one of my classes -- for the first time, I cried. I was watching a documentary simply stunned by how selfish and unappreciative "we" are for the lives we have.
Deaf-blindness. It's "the one that finally got me."
Until now, no disability, no delay, no abnormality, no health issue has hit me like this. To the point that I was simply devastated.
Children with vision loss rely heavily on their hearing to receive information, to experience the world, and to communicate. Children with hearing loss rely heavily on their vision. They help to compensate for one another.
But, to never see the world -- to never hear the world. To lack the motivation to move and interact with others because the world is just too scary and confusing.
We take it all for granted. This was the one that finally got me -- and I want to be better because of it.
A few "jewels" for your viewing pleasure. My kinders are amazing artists. Honestly better than I could do! :)
"I am going to Mrs. A." -- according to this little artist, that is Frankie on the left and Ecko (our leopard gecko) on the right. Cute. Cute.
This little one is amazing. Her drawings are so accurate and detailed. That's me (with my ID badge on - love it) standing by my cart (with the document camera on it. Wow!) My favorite part are the little ones sitting cross-legged on the carpet. Love this!
My kids love this game. It's simple, easy-to-learn, fun, and great for practicing number identification and comparison. I played this game this week with some of my students at math small group instruction. It's quick enough to play multiple times -- and the kids love the simple competitive nature. Plus, it's dog-themed. Winner in my book. :)
It's basically the old card game "War." There are 3 colors of number cards (easy sorting!) The kids simultaneously flip a card onto the game board, say the number, and decide whose number is the largest. This person takes all the cards! When there's a tie, players flip another card on top (their favorite part, of course!) The number cards also have a matching number of pawprints for kiddos who are still working on number ID, or those that need to see a visual to decide which number is larger.
I hope you enjoy the game! Click on the pictures above... HERE for the game board and HERE for the game cards.
We all hear it. We all say it. We all notice it. "Society has changed." "Kids nowadays are so different." "I remember when..." We all do it. We compare our society/culture nowadays to the world we grew up in. Our two-year-olds can work an iPhone. Our teenagers are having babies (and getting on t.v. for it!) Our society is obsessed with monitoring preservatives, lead-based paint, organic products... how did we *ever* survive before? :) But, yesterday, something in my classroom made me think -- Wow. What an awesome change in our world today. This week is "Red Ribbon Week" at our school. We talk about staying drug-free, and taking good care of ourselves in general. I don't talk to the kinders about drugs, specifically, but yesterday, as I handed out their ribbons at the end of the day, we discussed things that are good for our bodies and not good for our bodies. The kids came up with some great examples. Good for our bodies? Eating vegetables, exercising, drinking milk, taking vitamins. Bad for our bodies? Eating candy all the time, watching too much t.v., taking medicine without mom or dad's permission. Then, of course, a little guy brought up drinking alcohol. I answer it the same way I do every year: "That's a choice grown-ups can make, but alcohol is never for kids." Another little one brought up smoking cigarettes. And here lies the heart of this story. Student 1: "Smoking cigarettes is bad for your body." Me: "Yes. It's bad for your lungs and body." Student 2: "My dad smokes. I always tell him to stop, but he doesn't listen." Me: "Yes. Mrs. A doesn't smoke, but kind of like alcohol, that's a choice some adults make. But smoking is never for kids." -- Then, one of my sweet little darlings looks up at me with a puzzled look... Student 3: "What's smoking?" Me: "Well, have you ever seen someone outside with something in their mouth and there's smoke coming out of their mouths? It smells really yucky." Student 3 (still puzzled): "No. I don't know what that is." AWESOME!!! Hooray for our society! We spend so much time focusing on the negative changes in our world and society... this is a perfect example of a positive change in our society. A couple other kinders also looked quite puzzled... and I was thrilled. What an awesome change.
I absolutely LOVE the idea of stuffed peppers... but most stuffed pepper recipes pose several problems:
1. They take forever to bake.
2. They have a weird ketchupy paste on the top (yep - ketchupy).
3. They are stuffed with rice. And I don't like rice (my hubby either!)
I wanted a healthier, faster, better recipe that fit our tastes. So, I ended up with this version. I love this recipe. It is a hodge-podge of many recipes. I tweaked it and perfected it until it was just right for me.
Better even -- it's more of a method than a true recipe. You can substitute as much as you want -- just use the method. Use a different grain, add different vegetables or seasonings.
Stop reading -- and go buy some peppers (Trader Joe's has the best!). You won't regret it! This dinner is always a pleaser! Keep reading below for the recipe...
I'm almost done (hooray!!!!!) with my Master's degree -- and I feel like all I do is read, read, read. And not the fun kind of reading. BUT, today I read something wonderful and inspiring in some research for class. It validates my teaching philosophy -- and inspired me to keep nurturing close relationships with my students. It encourages me to continue to be as warm and responsive as possible -- at all times. "The teacher-student relationship is far and away the most important aspect of the school environment from a child's perspective. [It] has the power to encourage or discourage a child's educational success. Researchers find that teachers who maintain warm, emotionally supportive relationships with the children in their classrooms... those children tend to show more motivation to learn, more engagement in the learning process, and more social competence in the classroom." -- Handbook of Early Childhood Education (Pianta - 2012) SO... research says... love your students! Hug them... be available... LISTEN... it will directly impact their motivation to learn!
My kids LOVE. THIS. STATION. And I love the letter practice and fine motor practice they are getting! Plus, it's super fun. And super quiet. Everything you want in a workstation. :) We have a "magic table" in our room. This table has been our "morning check-in" table all year. The kids literally use it everyday.
Well... last week... they discovered what is underneath:
A SAND TABLE!!!
This is the first time I have used the sand table in my classroom. I have had it for four year! But, I'm a total neat freak in my classroom, and I've never *trusted* my class like I do this year. My class is absolutely wonderful -- so mature and so responsible. I knew they would do wonderful. In 2 weeks, there has been no sand on the floor! Hooray!
But... it's not just a sand table. It's our current ABC Station. It's called "Digging for Letters."
Using a Sharpie marker, I wrote letters on glass gems (from the dollar store), and "hid" them in the sand. The kids then dig for the letters -- and record it on this sheet:
It's a hit! My kids just love it - and they are so cute when they find a letter. "LOOK! I found H!"
Click on the picture above or HERE for the printable.
We only have 3 days of school this week -- and yesterday, we went on a field trip all day! So, with 2 days this week, it was a perfect time to play "catch-up" and have some fun with the kids.
One thing I love to do with my whole class is BINGO. They never get sick of it! It's so versatile -- you can practice any skill! I play all the time with my kids during small group instruction, but only on these "special days" do we play as a whole class. :)
I wanted to play letter bingo with my kinders, but I wanted to provide some differentiation. Kindergarten always presents a challenge in the range of abilities... but this year I have students who know less than 5 letters -- and students who know all 26 letters (uppercase and lowercase)!
So, I came up with this Differentiated Letter Bingo -- and I love it! It's a great way to engage all my students on their level. I plan to "secretly" seat my class in two groups. I will show and say the letter to one group (to encourage matching and letter ID) -- and just say the letter or sound to the other group (to encourage fluency and phonemic awareness).
There are three levels of game boards -- the kids simply cut out their letters and glue them on the grid to create a bingo board! Then, you can call the letters by name, sound, or even a word that begins with that letter. ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES!
Click on the pictures above or HERE to download the printable.
According to this little artist, that is a picture of me -- and as you can see, I am VERY excited to be at the pumpkin patch!
This picture just cracks me up. I seriously laugh every time I look at it. The floating head... the horse/person figure... and I'm not 100% sure what that is in the top right corner, but it sure makes me laugh! :)
Doesn't get any cuter than this. In his words, "That's you and me!"
What a little smartie! Using a "star word" and expression -- too cute!
I am beyond excited about my weekend project. I have been wanting to make a t-shirt quilt for a long time now. My drawers are full of soft, comfy t-shirts that I just can't part with. Perfect solution - make an uber-soft t-shirt quilt.
However, I did not want a traditional 12x12 square quilt. I know I made it more complicated than it needed to be [typical me] - but I absolutely LOVE the patchwork, hodge-podge of this quilt. PLUS -- the fabric was FREE!
Next weekend, I plan to add batting and bind it. Since I can't get soft fabric large enough to back this -- I think I will use a flat flannel queen-size sheet (and it will be super soft like the t-shirts!)
I prefer to *tie* my quilts instead of *sew* my quilts... but I think it's because I had a tied quilt when I was little, so I have a special place in my heart for them!
Once I have this one fully done... then it's time to make one from Tyson's old t-shirts! One day when we have little Andersons, they can cuddle up in our t-shirt quilts and we can tell them the story that goes along with each one.
I can't wait to see how it comes together next weekend!
Phonemic Awareness and Concepts of Print. They present us with quite a dilemma. 1. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of future reading success. This skill is absolutely key for kindergartners. 2. Phonemic awareness is also one of the hardest skills for kindergartners to develop -- especially boys. 3. Concepts of print prepare our kindergartners for learning. Their concepts of print can highly affect their readiness to learn and achieve in the classroom. 4. Unless they are educators... parents hardly ever have any idea what these things are. See what I mean? Dilemma. One of the "saviors" of this dilemma is that many parents unknowingly work on these skills with their young children. Home environments full of conversation, dinners together, nightly reading, and rich language naturally foster phonemic awareness and concepts of print. However, we all know our children do not always come from these environments. We are in the midst of parent-teacher conferences, so I developed two handouts to share with my students' parents -- one for phonemic awareness and one for concepts of print. Both explain what they are, what skills they include, and what we can do to help nurture these skills in our little ones.
Click HERE and HERE (or on the pictures above) for a printable download.
I hope these handouts are helpful to you and your students' parents!
Yesterday, our whole school went on a benefit walk for juvenile diabetes. The kids have been raising money for a couple weeks... and it all culminated with a fun walk on a great afternoon! I, of course, basked in the beauty of enjoying my kinders. No lessons. Nothing structured. Just walking and talking. It was a beautiful thing. We skipped. We held hands. We sang songs. And, of course, they talked... and talked... and talked! Here are a few of my favorite conversations from the walk (all from different students)... ------ Student 1 (pointing at a court): "Mrs. Anderson, is that for tennis?" Me: "Yes. That's a tennis court." Student 1: "Is tennis hard?" Me: "I think so! I think it's very hard to keep the ball in the court!" Student 2:" Pssh. Not for me. I'm awesome at tennis. One time, I got 10 strikes!!!" ------ Student 1: "Mrs. Anderson, what are you going to be for Halloween?" Me: "I'm not sure yet. What do you think I should be?" Student 1: "Maybe you could be a witch?" Student 2: "No, you can't be a witch because you're not mean." Student 1: "Oooh! I know! You should be a K-State fan." Me: "Great idea." ------ Student 1: "Are we going on a field trip?" Student 2: "No, we're going on a walk!" Student 1: "Did we have lunch yet?" Student 2: "Yes! We go home after our walk." Student 1: "Ah man. This is so confusing." ------ I love these little minds. :)
My students come first. My job is to put them first. Their education... their development... their health and happiness... all comes first.
I take my responsibility very seriously. I am responsible for 17 little learners -- and with that comes the responsibility to advocate for their needs.
I pride myself on being a happy, bubbly, easy-going person. With my family, with my friends, with my co-workers. But, is this more important to me than my students? Absolutely not. I'm here for them. End of story.
It may be because I don't have my own kids... it may just be my personal passion for their education... but these kids become my own. Every year.
And when I think my "cubs" are not getting what they deserve... Enter: Mama Bear.
Our children deserve more than the bare minimum... more than us doing just what is required of us. And just like a good Mama Bear, we must put ourselves second. The kids come first.
I give my kids my best everyday. From the minute they walk in the door to the minute they walk out.
And I'm proud to be surrounded by many, many wonderful people who do the same.
I expect the same out of every person in education. And if you aren't doing that... you aren't taking your responsibility seriously.
I don't think that is too much to expect. They deserve it.
My kinders seriously love these. They sing them all the time.
I absolutely love overhearing one of my students singing it quietly while writing a number independently. Just pulls at my heart strings. Too sweet.
Even better... we have been introducing the correct "technique" for writing each number -- one number each day. The kids beg for me to introduce another one. But nope. One per day. As I always say...
"I guess you'll have to come back to school tomorrow..."
I thought I'd share my personal version of the number writing rhymes. There are tons of versions out there, but here is the 0-9 set I have tweeked and made work for me. This is a *great* way to practice at home, too!
Click HERE or on the picture above for the printable. Enjoy!
If you haven't read this book... you should stop what you're doing and go check it out at the library.
It's waaaaaay cute. Simple, repetitive text. Laugh-out-loud funny. Full of voice and expression... and TONS of ways you could use it in the classroom!
It's great for reinforcing size comparison (bigger than, smaller than), ordering (biggest to smallest), using voice and expression, perspective writing, etc. etc. etc. Gotta love simple, versatile books!
To transition from our unit on apples to our unit on pumpkins, we have been comparing the 2 fruits -- both great for the Fall!
I love saving the last 15-20 minutes of the day for old-school traditional units. You know... apples, pumpkins, insects, animals, holidays, etc. They are a great way to get the kids interested in literature, shared writing, questions, charts, graphic organizers, etc.
Evidence: This adorable Venn diagram. Yes, it's cutesy (I love it!), but it was a very valuable tool this week. We ended our day all week by sitting at the carpet and reading a non-fiction book about pumpkins. The kids then suggested facts to add to the poster -- comparing apples (from the last 2 weeks) to pumpkins.
Every one of my kids was able to tell their fact (ex: "They're both round.") and point to where on the diagram it should go (ex: in the middle). Great, valuable way to use the last 15 minutes of the school day (a.k.a. the death hour in kindergarten).
Another shared quote from a student's parent. Too cute. It cracks me up just how well they know me :) Student (to his mom): "I wonder what Mrs. Anderson is doing this weekend while she's not at school. I bet her and Mr. Anderson are wearing their K-State purple and going on lots of adventures." Love their words. :) ... and yes, all my Nebraska corn-fed kinders know ALL ABOUT K-State purple!!!!
In our classroom, we use "crayons cups" to hold our crayons and pencil. I'm pretty particular with the kids about taking care of them. Needless to say, some of them take better care of theirs than others! :) A co-worker of mine has the "Desk Fairy" visit her classroom to reward her first graders who keep their desks clean. So... the CRAYON CUP FAIRY came to our classroom before school today! She left stars all over the floor and a note on the board.
She even left a special treat for four kinders who take *extra special* care of their crayon cups. The kids LOVED it... and I loved how it really reinforces responsibility in the classroom. I made a printable for anyone who wants to have a "fairy" to visit their classroom. I included cards for four "varieties" -- crayon cup, pencil box, cubby, and desk!
Click HERE or on the picture above for the printable cards!
A recent classroom favorite... Alphabet Geoboards! I love having a fine motor station during Literacy Workstations. It provides great strengthening practice for writing, drawing, and cutting. This fine motor activity has an extra incentive... letter formation! Click HERE to download your own cards. (I saved ink by printing b&w copies and tracing the lines with markers. Then, I laminated the cards for durability.)
Over the last few weeks, we have been working on patterns -- one of my favorite skills to teach! Even better... it's always one of the kids' favorite things to do. Kids naturally recognize and play with patterns. Identifying pattern types and copying, extending, and creating patterns is a natural extension of their innate curiosity. One favorite lesson and station every year is based on a great book, Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris.
I simply re-drew several fish from the book, ran copies, and the kids went CRAZY with the patterns! We did one together as a class, shared them with friends, and then put the extra copies at a math station for extra independent practice.